The news shook Washington.
It had politicians and pundits talking.
And one Supreme Court justice passing away blindsided everyone.
Former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor passed away at the age of 93 from complications of dementia.
O’Connor announced the diagnosis in a public letter she released back in 2018.
“While the final chapter of my life with dementia may be trying, nothing has diminished my gratitude and deep appreciation for the countless blessings of my life,” O’Connor wrote.
President Ronald Reagan nominated O’Connor to the Supreme Court in 1981 to fulfill a campaign promise to put a woman on the bench.
When President Reagan made the announcement he described O’Connor as “truly a person for all seasons, possessing those unique qualities of temperament, fairness, intellectual capacity, and devotion to the public good which have characterized the 101 brethren who have preceded her.”
But O’Connor turned out to be a classic establishment Republican.
O’Connor’s greatest legacy on the Court was affirming the liberal agenda of abortion on demand, race-based admissions in colleges and universities and allowing the government to restrict free speech in political campaigns.
In the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision, O’Connor joined the controlling opinion that reaffirmed nationwide abortion on demand.
2003’s Grutter v. Bollinger saw O’Connor cast the deciding vote to allow colleges and universities to discriminate against white and Asian students in admissions.
That same year saw O’Connor join the left in upholding the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law which limited the ability of Americans to speak freely during an election.
It didn’t come as a total shock that Barack Obama offered the most effusive praise of O’Connor following her passing.
“When a young Sandra Day graduated from Stanford Law School near the top of her class – in two years instead of the usual three – she was offered just one job in the private sector. Her prospective employer asked her how well she typed and told her there might be work for her as a legal secretary,” Obama’s statement began.
“Fortunately for us, she set her sights a little higher – becoming the first woman to serve as a U.S. Supreme Court justice. As a judge and Arizona legislator, a cancer survivor and child of the Texas plains, Sandra Day O’Connor was like the pilgrim in the poem she sometimes quoted – forging a new path and building a bridge behind her for all young women to follow. Michelle and I send our thoughts to Sandra’s family and everyone who learned from and admired her,” Obama concluded.
O’Connor’s career arc also helped lead to more stringent vetting procedures for GOP judicial nominees.
When O’Connor retired in 2006 President George W. Bush replaced her with Samuel Alito.
Alito went on to form the backbone of the conservative majority that reversed O’Connor’s attempt to cement liberal policies on abortion, suppressing free speech and race-based discriminatory college admission policies.